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Parksville temporary housing facility residents protest upcoming closure

Compliance agreement for VIP Motel between the city and BC Housing ends March 31

Some residents at the VIP Motel temporary supportive housing facility in Parksville will end up on the streets when it closes at the end of the month.

The motel has operated under a partnership between BC Housing and Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEARTS) since November 2021.

The manager of the VIP, also known as Ocean Place, said not everyone will be placed into new housing, despite assurances from BC Housing.

“As it stands right now, there’s only about a half a dozen of our people who are going to be placed. Nobody is being placed in Parksville,” said Paula Miles. “We’re going to have 18 or so that are going to be displaced.”

She added there are some residents who turned down a placement for a variety of reasons, including those who say they can’t afford the rent. Miles described the situation of an elderly man, nearly 80, who said he will not be able to pay for his medication, plus rent and does not want to move away from his doctor.

“A few others have declined because they’re not using anymore and they don’t want to go into a place where they have to walk over people who are using, in order to get to their rooms,” Miles said. “Because they’ve made the conscious choice not to use any longer.”

Both the City of Parksville and BC Housing have said the facility provided emergency shelter and support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lease between the city and BC Housing expires on March 31.

Dan Hogan, 65, said he was offered a place in Nanaimo or Courtenay, but he does not want to relocate.

“I’d like to stay in the Parksville area,” said Hogan, who has been at the VIP for approximately a year and a half. “I’m all buggered up, I can barely walk.”

Husband and wife Rod Nall and Corinna Winter said they have lived at the VIP for close to two years and it has become their home.

They asked to stay in Parksville, where their supports are, but said they were offered an application for a place in Nanaimo, where they do not want to go. Nall said he told BC Housing a placement anywhere from Parksville to Campbell River would have been fine.

“There was no help. For the help they thought they were giving, we received none,” said Nall.

They do not know where they will go after March 31.

“On April first, on our sixth anniversary, we might be homeless,” Winter said. “I got a hospital bed, I can’t walk. What, am I supposed to have a home care nurse come and visit me on the street? I’m terrified.”

READ MORE: Councillor brings notice of motion to keep Parksville temporary supportive housing open

Hopes were high with residents and staff because of a notice of motion made earlier this month by Coun. Mary Beil. The motion called for an extension of the compliance order’s term and to maintain supportive housing services on site until appropriate permitting is in place, pending support from BC Housing.

Beil said, during council’s March 20 regular meeting, that she changed that motion after she received a letter from BC Housing that indicated it does not wish to extend the agreement.

“Without their support there’s no point in me bringing forth my original motion,” Beil said. “I know this will come as a disappointment to many and I am concerned that this will not reduce the number of unhoused individuals in our community.”

Beil amended her motion to instead invite BC Housing representatives to meet in person for council to learn about a variety of housing initiatives.

Last fall, the compliance agreement provided BC Housing with 180 days to find suitable alternative housing options for residents, provide ongoing social supports to individuals during the transition and continue engagement with the neighbourhood on management of the facility.

“The compliance agreement between BC Housing and the City has successfully addressed the concerns expressed by residents and businesses while providing BC Housing with sufficient time to find safe alternative accommodation for residents living at this location,” said a March 22 news release from the city. “BC Housing has not requested an extension to the agreement and the date of March 31 was agreed upon by both parties from the outset.”

The release also said the property is zoned Tourist Commercial CS-2, which allows uses such as hotel/motel, restaurant, resort condominiums, other related tourism commercial uses, and is designated for commercial tourism uses in the City’s Official Community Plan.

The previous council denied BC Housing’s application for a Temporary Use Permit in September 2022 and soon after the city and BC Housing entered into the compliance agreement.

“We are confident BC Housing has satisfied the commitments made as part of the compliance agreement to operate the VIP Motel as temporary shelter by providing suitable alternative accommodations for residents housed at the motel,” said Mayor Doug O’Brien, in the city news release. “We appreciate the commitment by BC Housing to work collaboratively in seeking long-term solutions, while respecting the safety and security of our citizens and businesses.”

In an emailed statement from March 13, BC Housing said it offered new, safe, indoor accommodations to “all nine remaining shelter guests,” in partnership with non-profit housing providers.

“Those are the only nine that they attempted to work with,” said Miles. “And about half a dozen of them are being placed and some aren’t. They have chosen not to work with some of our other people.”

Members of the OHEARTS board are also concerned about the VIP’s impending closure and say it will make it much more difficult to help people, who often have multiple health problems.

It’s also disappointing because it will mean the dispersal of a team of experts put together over the past few years, according to Dr. Jane Clelland, OHEARTS board member.

“We have people going to AA meetings, we have people going to treatment, we try to get people doctors, and then you put all these people back on the street,” Clelland said. “We are doing a good job, so that’s what’s so hard to understand, when we’re doing a good job, why they want to close us down.”

OHEARTS’ executive director, Kristine Douthwright, said they applied twice to appear as a delegation to Parksville City Council, most recently in March, but the requests were turned down.

Douthwright, a psychiatric nurse by trade and previously with Island Health, said she hoped to appear to express her concern about the VIP’s closure and also to share her experience of a similar situation in Port Alberni, where she was deputy director of the Port Alberni Shelter Society.

If the facility closes, it will put 12 people out of a job, Miles said.

“We have some very committed employees here, who have developed relationships with the residents here and of course they’re upset about this and want to see it continue,” she said.

With the temporary cold weather shelter in Parksville also scheduled to close March 31, Miles said there will be no place left for anyone who is homeless to go.

“The only choice is the street,” said Miles. “How many people are going to be reading this that have not been one paycheque away from being on the street. How many have lived in cars? How many know someone in that ship? There’s quite a few.”

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Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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